The Society: Church of the Poor

Posted on the 18th Nov 2017

420 parishes are under the oversight of a member of the Council of Bishops of The Society having passed a resolution under the House of Bishops’ Declaration, the Forward in Faith National Assembly heard when it met at the Church of St Alban the Martyr, Holborn, on Saturday 18 November. (Beverley 105, Burnley 19, Chichester 14, Ebbsfleet 94, Fulham 60, Richborough 97, Wakefield 31.) In the last four years the Society’s bishops have ordained over 50 priests (most of them young) to minister in these parishes.


84% of these parishes are in the more deprived half of the Church of England’s parishes (according to the Government’s Index of Multiple Deprivation – IMD). 43% are among the most deprived 10%. 23 of the parishes are among the most deprived 1%. In almost every diocese the profile of the Society bishops’ resolution parishes is more deprived than the diocese as a whole.


Mrs Anne Gray, the Council of Bishops’ Projects Officer, told the Assembly that these 420 parishes (3% of Church of England parishes) have cure of

  • 6% (1 in 16) of the population of England (over 3 million people)

  • 14% of the most deprived 10% of parishes (over 1.4 million people)

  • 18% of the most deprived 1% of parishes.

The members of the Council of Bishops are grateful to the Church House Research and Statistics Department for supporting them in their oversight of these parishes by providing the data on which these figures are based.


Anne Gray commented, ‘One of the most striking conclusions gained from evaluating this data is the irrefutable confirmation of what many people have reported anecdotally: that ministry and mission to the poor and deprived in Anglo-Catholic parishes is as much a hallmark of their commitment today as it was in the past.’


Addressing the Assembly, Fr Ian McCormack, a member of Forward in Faith’s Executive Committee who is a church historian and teaches at the College of the Resurrection, Mirfield, said: ‘Much of the work the Tractarians and their successors did in the poorest parishes was not unique to them – but it was emphasized and prioritized within the movement to a unique extent.’


Fr McCormack, who is Vicar of the South Yorkshire ex-mining parish of Grimethorpe with Brierley (one of the 5% most deprived in England), also commented: ‘We are no longer threatened with riots for lighting the candles on our altars, or with suspension for preaching the Real Presence in the Eucharist, as our anglo-catholic forebears were; but we are faced with a demand for 79.17% of our income in parish share; with the need for a portfolio of policy documents so large that we’ve had to find new shelf space just to fit them all in, in a parochial setting where the reality is that some of the people I meet cannot read; and an ecclesiastical culture which sometimes seems to value numerical growth as the only possible gauge of success. The Tractarians cared passionately about church growth, as must any Christian worthy of the name; but they also cared about holiness of life, about a growing and deepening faith, about a closer walk with God.’


In other business, the Assembly unanimously adopted ‘Forming Missionary Disciples: A Mission Strategy for The Society’, presented to it by Fr Damian Feeney, Vicar of Ettingshall and Missioner to the Catholic Parishes of the Diocese of Lichfield.


Photographs, texts and sound recordings of the Assembly are published on the Forward in Faith website here.